World Notes: South Africa, Ireland, Venezuela, Israel, Cuba, Philippines

South Africa: Unions demand central bank control

Speaking for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told reporters Sept. 25 that "the Reserve Bank plays a crucial public mandate which cannot be left in the hands of private owners." The union federation, concerned about effects of monetary policy on employment, poverty and societal inequalities, has demanded increased government spending and lowering of high interest rates the bank uses to moderate inflation. Pending nationalization, unions are seeking a role in bank leadership.

Few countries leave ownership of central banks in the hands of private shareholders, in this instance some 630 of them, allowed to appoint half the Board of Directors. The French news agency AFP pointed out that COSATU has already called for nationalization of mines.

Ireland: Lisbon treaty passes

Sixteen months after a "No" vote, Irish voters last week backed the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. Prime Minister Brian Cowen called a 67 percent majority endorsement by 58 percent of voters appearing at the polls "clear and resounding." Economic downturn and EU reaffirmation of Irish sovereignty contributed to the reversal, the BBC reported.

The treaty takes effect for 27 EU nations once hold-outs Czech Republic and Poland give approval. Its purpose is to streamline EU operations. A majority vote, rather than consensus, would be used in decision-making, and the offices of EU president and "High Representative for Foreign Affairs" would be created. The proposed treaty, supposed to have taken effect earlier this year, is the product of negotiations over a decade.

Venezuela: Bank of the South launched

Attending the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island, Venezuela, the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela signed papers last week constituting the Bank of the South. With $7 billion in capital on hand (provided by Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina) and $13 billion more promised, the bank, four years in the making, will have offices in Caracas, La Paz, and Buenos Aires.

Quoting its constitution, Bloomberg News outlined purposes of "correcting of asymmetries in the region, reduction of poverty, and sustained development."

Chile, Peru and Colombia are not participating - the latter, according to an El Tiempo blogger, preferring to be "protected and dependent in a relation in which the gringos rule."

Israel: Settlements to expand

The government will soon approve plans propelled by the ruling Likud Party and right-wing allies to build 14,000 housing units near Bethlehem. Ma'an News sees the project as "the most populous single settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967."

Actual construction will have to await demolition of Palestinian houses built without Israeli licensure on some 1.6 square miles of targeted land. Mobilized in defense of their homes, residents of the affected village of Al-Walaja are counting on support from leftist parties in Israel and the European Union.

Haaretz reported that under U.S. pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dropped his previous demand for a construction freeze as a condition to resume Israeli- Palestinian negotiations.

Philippines: ILO probes labor rights abuses

On completion Sept. 30 of an eight-day survey, a spokesperson for an International Labor Organization team called on the government to investigate "serious allegations of disappearances and killings," also to indoctrinate police and soldiers on worker rights.

Reuters reported that 90 trade unionists have been killed or kidnapped since 2001, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president. Included in testimony before the group were charges that soldiers used sexual harassment and blocking of food deliveries to enforce a government ban on unions and strikes in export processing zones.

Victims' family members recounted multiple instances of unpunished killings. The ILO was providing an initial response to requests for intervention from 2006 and 2007. A full report is expected next year.

Cuba: Small signs of thaw

For the first time in years, top-ranked Cuban musicians performed at the U.S. Interests Section last month, and Cuban artists secured visas for U.S. performances. La Jornada applauded Washington for allowing members of singer Juanes' team to be in Havana to mount his recent "Peace without Frontiers" concert.

And strikingly, Cuban authorities invited U.S. diplomat Bisa Williams, already conferring in Havana on return of direct mail services, to extend her visit and to travel to Pinar del Rio where she viewed recovery there from hurricane damage last year. She also joined Cuban officials in discussing U.S.-Cuban migratory agreements.

But U.S. refusal to allow wealthy patrons from joining the New York Philharmonic in Havana caused that orchestra to cancel a concert set for November. The Philharmonic performed last year in North Korea.

 

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